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All of London is in an uproar due to recent attacks by a Jack the Ripper-style serial killer known as "The Avenger" who targets blonde women. During this time, a pale, hypersensitive stranger arrives at a family-owned boarding house to take up lodging. He becomes attracted to the proprietor's pretty blonde daughter Daisy, who is already engaged to a policeman. Daisy, in spite of her parents' objections, returns the lodger's overtures. When the trail of the killer leads to the same district in which the boarding house is located, the lodger's strange behavior places him under suspicion by the family.
In his book-length interview with Alfred Hitchcock, Francois Truffaut notoriously stated that there is "a certain incompatibility between the terms 'cinema' and 'Britain.'" The fact that many would be inclined to disagree with that point today is due in no small part to Hitchcock's own contributions to British cinema, starting with his third feature film and his "first true Hitchcock film," The Lodger (1927). Hitchcock, who was an avid moviegoer as a young man, was especially keen on American cinema. In particular, he has acknowledged the influence of D. W. Griffith's epics The Birth of a Nation (1915), Intolerance (1916) and Way Down East (1920). During this time, British screens were dominated by American product; native British productions had a difficult time competing with the more technically polished American films and received hardly any exposure outside their own country. Indeed, when promoting Hitchcock's directorial debut The Pleasure Garden (1925), the film's producer Michael Balcon is said to have boasted of its "American look."
It is also significant that early in his career Hitchcock worked as an assistant director in Germany for an UFA-Gainsborough coproduction, The Blackguard (1924). Already a fan of German directors such as Fritz Lang and F. W. Murnau, he acquired invaluable firsthand experience there with German filmmaking techniques, even getting to observe Murnau work on the set of The Last Laugh (1924). Part of The Pleasure Garden and all of his now-lost second film, The Mountain Eagle (1926) were shot in Germany. During this time Hitchcock also established contact with the actor Bernhard Goetzke, who played in Lang's Destiny (1921) and Doctor Mabuse, The Gambler (1922); Goetzke later starred in The Mountain Eagle.
Another lasting influence on Hitchcock's work to emerge during this period was the montage theories and editing techniques of Soviet directors such as Sergei Eisenstein, Lev Kuleshov, Vsevolod Pudovkin and Dziga Vertov. When the Film Society of London was established in 1925, Hitchcock attended regularly, watched a number of Soviet films, and befriended Ivor Montagu, who translated essays by Eisenstein and Pudovkin and promoted Soviet films in England. When The Lodger was poorly received by studio executives after its completion, Montagu helped recut the film and offered suggestions on how to reshoot parts of the climactic chase in which the Ivor Novello character winds up dangling from an iron fence by handcuffs. Hitchcock evidently took these lessons in montage to heart: as demonstrated by later films such as Psycho (1960), montage became one of the most important elements of his style.
The film's star, Ivor Novello (1893-1951), was also noted as a playwright and composer. In addition to songs such as the World War I favorite "Keep the Home Fires Burning," Novello wrote a number of popular musical comedies, among them Symphony in Two Flats (1929), Fresh Fields (1933) and We Proudly Present (1947). Before working on The Lodger, Novello had scored a tremendous hit with the 1924 play The Rat and its 1925 film version, in which he played an Apache-type Parisian jewel thief; he later reprised the role in a series of sequels. While the presence of Novello in The Lodger helped ensure the film's bankability, in some respects it worked against Hitchcock's original intentions; the novel by Marie Belloc Lowndes ends with the suggestion that the lodger is probably the killer, after all. Studio executives demanded that the script be changed to make Novello innocent, fearing that his predominantly female fan base would object to seeing him portrayed as a killer. As a result, The Lodger became the first film in which Hitchcock explored his classic theme of the wrongly accused man, albeit here in rudimentary form.
The Lodger remains noteworthy today for a number of striking visual touches. Indeed, from the opening title card designs to its atmospheric treatment of London at night, the influence of German Expressionism on the film is evident. The most famous effect is undoubtedly the clear glass floor through which we see the lodger pacing back and forth in his room, causing the chandelier to sway on the ceiling below. It was due in no small part to Hitchcock's visual imagination that the British critics hailed The Lodger as a landmark British film upon its release. However, it was less well received in the U.S. when it was released in June 1928, under the title The Case of Jonathan Drew. The reviewer for Variety used the film as an excuse to bemoan the state of the British film industry in general. The reviewer says of the film's producers, "They took a smashing theme, gummed it up with cheap and shoddy catering to the lowest taste of what they supposed to be their public, and then further smeared it with acting and photography that belongs to the American studio of 10 years ago." In particular, the reviewer complained of Ivor Novello's "unbelievably stilted acting." Hardly more charitably, the reviewer in The New York Times wrote: "The picture has a very, very, excellent beginning, a mediocre middle and a most deplorable ending." Today most critics would rate The Lodger quite a bit higher than that, even though its achievement was eclipsed by Hitchcock's later silent films, particularly The Ring (1927) and the little-seen silent version of Blackmail (1929).
Producer: Michael Balcon
Director: Alfred Hitchcock
Script: Eliot Stannard, based on the novel The Lodger by Marie Belloc Lowndes
Photography: Baron Ventimiglia
Art Direction: C. Wilfred Arnold and Bertram Evans
Editing and Titling: Ivor Montagu
Cast: Ivor Novello (the Lodger/Jonathan Drew), June (Daisy Bunting), Marie Ault (Mrs. Bunting, The Landlady), Arthur Chesney (Mr. Bunting, Her Husband), Malcolm Keen (Joe Chandler).
by James Steffen